Eat for Better Cholesterol: 12 Essential Foods
1. Salmon, along with other fatty fish like mackerel, sardines, and tuna, contain omega-3 fatty acids. They help stabilize heart rhythms, lower cholesterol and triglycerides, and reduce inflammation in the arteries.
Aim for at least two servings a week and choose fish lower in mercury (see a buyer’s guide). One recent study claims consuming even just half a serving weekly can lower the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 17 percent.
2. The soluble fiber in oatmeal, oat bran, legumes, beans and peas helps to reduce cholesterol by soaking it up and expelling it out of the body as waste. If you’re looking for a practical way to reach your target, consider adding more of these foods to your diet. Studies report that low-fat, fiber-rich diets can reduce total cholesterol levels by 10-15 percent, enough to potentially help you reach your goal.
3. It’s no surprise that fruit and vegetables made this list. When it comes to lowering cholesterol and reducing inflammation, fiber-rich fruits and veggies are essential. Even more incentive to grab an apple or heap more greens on your plate: Two studies revealed that folks who ate 8-plus servings a day had a 30 percent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than those who had fewer than 2.
4. While other types of alcohol protect against heart disease, red wine offers added benefits from plant compounds found in grape skins, such as resveratrol, which helps lower cholesterol. Aim for one to two drinks a day (that’s 4 ounces for wine, and the higher number applies to men).
5. Swap saturated fats for olive oil, a mainstay in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. Olives and olive oil contain monosaturated fat, which is better for heart health than saturated fat. On top of that, olives contain antioxidants called polyphenols, which research suggests help to reduce inflammation in the blood vessels, improving cholesterol and triglyceride levels. When shopping, look for virgin olive oil — it’s less processed which means it retains more of the polyphenols than heavily processed variants.
6. Go nuts! Sure, nuts have a lot of fat, but it’s the monosaturated and polyunsaturated varieties which help to lower cholesterol while protecting your heart. You can’t find a more heart-healthy snack than nuts, which offer fiber, protein, vitamin E, magnesium, b vitamins, and potassium. Aim for an ounce at least 5 times per week.
7. While soy foods aren’t the cure-alls we once thought (they lower cholesterol only a little bit, according to reviews of recent studies) they are valuable in other ways. Soy is an excellent protein source with none of the saturated fat of meat. Occasionally enjoying a soy food in place of meat and full-fat cheese is a perfect an example of eating for a healthy heart.
8. Cranberry juice has long served as a powerful tool for fending off urinary tract infections, but research now shows the antioxidant-rich juice can help protect your heart, too. In a three month study of 19 volunteers with high cholesterol, three servings of juice a day boosted HDL cholesterol levels by 10 percent, consequentially lowering their risk of heart disease by 40 percent. If you’re in the market for cranberry juice, look for brands with low-sugar.
9. You can lower LDL cholesterol in just a few weeks by swapping your regular margarine, salad dressings, milk, cheeses, yogurts, and orange juice with versions fortified with plant sterols. Sterols and stanols are compounds found naturally in veggies, nuts, and seeds and are added to margarines and other foods because they help lower cholesterol by reducing the amount you absorb from food. Good to know: sterols/stanols are best absorbed with a little fat, so if you opt for OJ, enjoy it with a meal.
10. Red grapefruit. An Israeli study of 57 men and women who’d undergone bypass surgery and whose cholesterol levels were not responding to statin meds revealed that the folks who ate red grapefruit with their regular meals lowered their total cholesterol by more than 15 percent, their LDL by more than 20 percent, and their triglycerides by more than 17 percent.
Healthy tip: Since grapefruit can interact with certain medications, check with your doctor if you’re on any prescription drugs.
11. If pizza or pasta’s on the menu, load up on the tomato sauce. The lycopene in tomatoes, a powerful antioxidant in the cartenoid family, protects against heart disease by preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Helpful tip: Because cooking releases lycopene from tomatoes, you’ll reap greater reward from sauce, rather than raw tomatoes.
Enjoy an apple (or two) a day. Apple’s antioxidants mimic statins, stimulating the liver to remove harmful LDL cholesterol from the blood. What’s more? The antioxidants in apples and apple juice delay the breakdown of LDL cholesterol by about 20 percent. Three to try: Red Delicious, Northern Spy, and Ida Red. You should also make sure to avoid these foods high in cholesterol and other eating habits that hurt your cholesterol levels.